Rupert Murdoch on Thursday admitted there was a “cover-up” at the News of the World over the scale of phone hacking by its journalists and said he wished he had closed it much earlier.

But he denied any personal culpability claiming he and senior executives of his company News International were not told the full facts. “I do blame one or two people for that... someone took charge of a cover up we were victim to and I regret that,” said the 81-year-old media tycoon on the second day of his deposition before a judicial inquiry into media ethics in the wake of the hacking scandal.

'Permanent blot'

Describing what happened at NoW as a “permanent blot” on his career, Mr. Murdoch repeatedly apologised to the victims of the newspaper's tactics and to the “innocent” staff who lost their jobs when he finally closed it last summer. “I am guilty of not having paid enough attention to the News of the World, probably throughout all of the time that we've owned it. I was more interested in the excitement of building a new newspaper and doing other things... it was an omission by me,” he said admitting that he should have probed deeper when the scandal first erupted and the paper's Royal Editor Clive Goodman was jailed in 2007 for hacking the phones of the royal family.

At the time it was claimed that he was the lone “rogue” reporter and there were no other instances of hacking.

Mr. Murdoch said he should have had a “one-on-one” meeting with Goodman and tried to find out more when the latter claimed the practice was widespread. He said the penny really dropped after the revelation that the NoW had hacked the phone of Milly Dowler, a teenage schoolgirl who went missing and was found dead.

The Dowler story got “huge publicity” and he “panicked”. He “could feel the blast coming in the window, almost”, he said.

Downing Street, meanwhile, rejected calls for an inquiry into Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt's role in passing crucial inside information to News International about the Murdochs' £8-billion controversial bid for BSkyB.

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